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Commonly Confused Words: Lose vs. Loose


What does each word mean?

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines ‘lose’ as to ‘be deprived of’ or to ‘cease to have or retain’ something. The past tense and past participle of the verb ‘lose’ is ‘lost’.

Here is the word used in some example sentences:

  • I think we’re going to lose the game.
  • I have a special compartment in my handbag to make sure I don’t lose my car keys.
  • I’ll need to lose weight if I want to wear that dress.

Click here for the Spellzone unit which features this word.

The OED defines ‘loose’ as an adjective which describes something that is ‘not firmly or tightly fixed in place, detached or able to be detached’. The word is also used as a verb when referring to the act of making something less tight.

Here is the word used in some example sentences:

  • My daughter has her first loose tooth.
  • I need to buy a purse for all my loose change.
  • Her dress was too loose so she tried on a smaller size.

Click here for the Spellzone unit which features this word.

Here are some examples of both words used in the same sentence:

  • The clasp on my necklace is loose and I’m worried I’m going to lose it.
  • His loose and inexact analysis of the text led him to lose marks in the exam.
  • When you lose a lot of weight, your clothes become loose.

Where does each word come from?

  • Lose’, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, comes from the Old English ‘losian’ which means to ‘be lost, perish’ and comes from ‘los’ which means ‘destruction, loss’.
  • The word ‘loose’ comes from the old Norse ‘lauss’ which means ‘loose, free, vacant, dissolute’ and similar to the Old English ‘leas’ which means ‘devoid of, false, feigned, incorrect’. The word was first used to mean ‘not securely fixed’ in the early thirteenth century, and to mean ‘unbound’ in the early fourteenth century.

Are there any mnemoics to help remember the difference between these words?

  • The difficult part when spelling these words is working out how many Os you need. If you remember that one word has two Os and the other only has one, a useful trick is to keep in mind that ‘lose’ is the word that loses an O (i.e. only has one rather than two).
  • Although ‘lose’ and ‘loose’ are spelt similarly, they’re pronounced quite differently. Coming up with rhyming words is another great way of remembering which spelling refers to which word. Next time you need to use one of these words, think of a ‘goose on the loose’ to work out which spelling you need. Click here for the Spellzone list of words which use the long ‘oo’ sound, and click here to learn about them in unit 13.
  • Think of ‘lost’ or ‘loss’ when you need to spell the word ‘lose’ – all three words have just one O.

Happy Spelling!


14 Jan 2014
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